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Can a Parent Be Liable For Injury When Parent’s Child Invites Another Child to Their House?

By Eric Ganci

Hoffmann v. Young, 8/29/22

…or stated more in full: Can a parent be liable for injury when parent’s child invites another child to their house…and that child gets injured in recreational activity?

Let me lay out the situation:

Let’s say you are a parent and you have your child (Child A, let’s call her Alice) at your property (house, apartment, open land). Alice invites another child to your property for some recreational activity. Let’s call the invited-child Child B: Bruce. In part because I love Batman.

Ok, so Alice invites Bruce over to your house for recreational motorcycle riding, which is the case here in this California Supreme Court 8/29/22 decision Hoffman v. Young, cited right now as 2022 WL 3711715.

Bruce rides the motorcycle and hurts himself. Bruce then files a personal injury lawsuit against Alice’s parents, and Bruce claims Alice’s Parents are liable because Alice invited Bruce over to play.

Can Alice’s Parents be liable for Bruce’s injuries? Well, in theory yes. But Hoffman gives so much more explanation as this is a deeper legal question—one that gets into laws of agency in addition to immunities for premises liability if the person is on property for recreational purposes. Let me lay this out with quotes direct from Hoffmann.

Generally, regarding recreational activity on your land:

“Under [California] Civil Code section 846, landowners generally owe no duty of care to keep their property safe for others who may enter or use it for recreational purposes.”

However, “[t]here is an exception to that statutory negation of duty, however, when a landowner expressly invites someone onto the property.”

However (again), there is a question “whether that exception applies when the invitation is extended, not by the landowners, but by their live-at-home child who acts without the owners’ knowledge or permission.”

That’s exactly what happened in Hoffmann. Alice invited Bruce to ride motorcycles at Alice’s Parent’s home without the knowledge of Alice’s Parents. Here, “parents did not know plaintiff, nor were they aware of the invitation.”

Which led to the Court’s ruling: “Mere implied permission to invite friends over would not suffice to trigger section 846(d)(3) ’s exception. While a child may be allowed to invite friends of their choosing, without more, the invitation is theirs alone.”

With that, on to agency principles.

Agency and Hoffmann:

First, some general laws about agency:

“An agent ‘is one who represents another, called the principal, in dealings with third persons. Such representation is called agency.’ An agent ‘may be authorized to do any acts which his principal might do, except those to which the latter is bound to give his personal attention.’”

A few thoughts about how an agency relationship is formed:

“Agency exists when a principal engages an agent to act on the principal’s behalf and subject to its control.”

“The ‘essential elements necessary to establish an agency relationship are ‘manifestation of consent by one person to another that the other shall act on his [or her] behalf and subject to his [or her] control, and consent by the other so to act.’”

“Typically, an agency is created by an express contract or authorization. However, an agency relationship may also be created informally, based on the circumstances and the parties’ conduct.”

“[A]n agency cannot be created by the conduct of the agent alone; rather, conduct by the principal is essential to create the agency.”

“[T]o constitute an agency relationship the authority delegated must be that which permits the agent to act ‘not only for, but in the place of, his principal’ in dealings with third parties.”

The ultimate thoughts and rulings here:

Can a parent ever be liable when their kid invites another kid over? Yes. But it depends. “Though we agree that landowners can authorize nonowners to expressly invite others onto their property, we reject the proposition that a landowner necessarily does so by allowing a child to live on the property and failing to prohibit the child from extending the invitation. The question presented here is not whether a child can invite friends over. The legal question is whether the circumstances establish that a parent has authorized the child to issue an invitation on the parent’s behalf, such that the child’s invitation strips the landowner of immunity.”

“[T]he mere existence of a parent-child relationship does not create an agency.” And here, Parents “failure to prohibit [Parents’ Child] from extending the invitation does not strike us as conduct implying that [Parent’s Child] was authorized to act on their behalf in extending an invitation, in such a manner that extinguished their immunity.”

“Mere implied permission to invite friends over would not suffice to trigger [California Civil Code] section 846(d)(3)’s exception. While a child may be allowed to invite friends of their choosing, without more, the invitation is theirs alone.’”